What Does Breakthrough Bleeding Look Like in Early Pregnancy?

Breakthrough bleeding is any type of bleeding that occurs outside a normal menstrual cycle. Learn why breakthrough bleeding sometimes happens in early pregnancy and what it looks like.

During early pregnancy, any amount of bleeding can be scary. While a small amount of blood is usually not a cause for panic, it is best to tell your doctor or midwife to put your mind at ease.

Breakthrough bleeding is one type of blood loss that can occur during pregnancy and it’s more common than you think. Approximately 25 percent of all women experience some bleeding while pregnant, according to Cure Joy, and most are for harmless reasons.

Breakthrough bleeding is spotting or bleeding from the uterus that occurs between menstrual cycles or during pregnancy. While the blood may look different from woman to woman, most find breakthrough bleeding to be reddish or brown in color.

With breakthrough bleeding, the amount of blood is usually minimal and much less than a regular period. However, like a menstrual period breakthrough bleeding may be accompanied by a host of symptoms such as cramping, frequent urination, or backache.

What the Experts Say

While bleeding in early pregnancy is often associated with miscarriage, this is not the only reason bleeding occurs. As your body adjusts to being pregnant, you will go through a number of changes, some which can cause unexpected bleeding. Here’s what some experts have to say about breakthrough bleeding during early pregnancy.

“Bleeding during early pregnancy is alarming to the woman and of concern to health care providers. The common bleeding disorders of early pregnancy include miscarriage (spontaneous abortion), cervical insufficiency, ectopic pregnancy, and hydatidiform mole (molar pregnancy).”

– Deitra Leonard Lowdermilk, Maternity and Women’s Health Care

“Whenever a woman experiences any sign of blood during pregnancy, she should lie on her left side and elevate her legs. In this protective position, she creates a healing inner environment because a greater amount blood flows to the fetus. Her spotting or staining may soon subside, but no matter what happens, she must talk to her doctor about the incident.”

– Neils H. Lauersen, It’s Your Pregnancy

“Early in pregnancy, around the time of your missed period, experiencing a little bleeding from the vagina isn’t uncommon. The amount of bleeding is usually less than what you would expect with a period and lasts for only one or two days. This is called implantation bleeding, and it happens when the fertilized egg attaches to the uterus’s lining.”

– Joanne Stone, Pregnancy for Dummies

“Bleeding during pregnancy doesn’t always mean that there is a problem; about 20% of all women bleed sometime in early pregnancy. Always advise the doctor about any bleeding; he or she may want your partner to have an ultrasound.”

– Glade B. Curtis, Your Pregnancy for the Father-to-Be

“Complications arise more frequently during the first trimester than at any other stage of pregnancy. Most present with bleeding, pain, or both. Vaginal bleeding occurs in about 20% of clinically diagnosed pregnancies. It causes considerable anxiety for the woman and her partner. In the vast majority of case, no intervention alters the outcome.”

– David K. James, High Risk Pregnancy

Reasons for Breakthrough Bleeding

Breakthrough bleeding can vary in color, texture, amount, and frequency depending on the cause of the bleeding. Here are some of the most common causes of breakthrough bleeding during early pregnancy, associated symptoms, and what it could mean for you.

Implantation Bleeding: Implantation bleeding is one of the first signs of pregnancy typically occurring just 6 to 12 days following conception, according to WebMD. While not all women will experience implantation bleeding, those that do often describe it as light pink or brown spots usually found in your underwear or on the tissue when you wipe.

Implantation bleeding occurs when the fertilized egg attaches to the interior lining of the uterus. This is a normal occurrence and therefore nothing to worry about.

Hormonal Bleeding: In early pregnancy the body goes through many changes. Your hormones, which are typically responsible for stopping and starting your period, can become slightly out of whack.

This can lead to a host of symptoms similar to your normal cycle, such as bloating, cramping, and general aches and pains. Your hormones can also cause bleeding throughout the first trimester.

Miscarriage: Of course, the threat of a miscarriage is very real when dealing with breakthrough bleeding in pregnancy. An estimated 15 to 20 percent of all women with verified pregnancies will end up having a miscarriage, according to Very Well Family.

Miscarriage is most common during the first trimester and the risk significantly drops thereafter. With a miscarriage, the bleeding can be light or heavy, irregular or constant. It may also be accompanied by blood clots or greyish fetal tissue.

Ectopic Pregnancy: Some women who experience breakthrough bleeding during early pregnancy are actually experiencing an ectopic pregnancy. An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg attaches itself outside of the uterus, most commonly in the fallopian tube.

With an ectopic pregnancy, you may experience vaginal bleeding that is lighter or heavier than your normal period, as well as sharp or stabbing pains that come and go, dizziness, weakness, and gastrointestinal symptoms.

When you are pregnant, any type of bleeding will surely make you worry. However, know that your body is adjusting to pregnancy and the bleeding is most likely nothing to worry about. However, it’s best to always notify your doctor or midwife about any bleeding you experience, as well as any other concerning symptoms.


Brandy Dishaw

Brandy is a content specialist and proud mother of two children. She enjoys writing engaging content on parenting, children’s health, and educational topics, and has been published on websites like Modern Mom, Yahoo! Shine, and Livestrong.com. With more than a decade of experience as a writer and mom, she combines research and personal experience to provide her audience with insight to the world of parenting.

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